Cool your Jets, Winnipeg

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:38 PM ET

The plot thickens, though not necessarily for the reason you might think.

We're not here to pour cold water over the story or fan the flames either, but further examination is required.

Word spread yesterday that NHL commisioner Gary Bettman apparently told Phoenix Coyotes majority owner Jerry Moyes in April that "'if the team did return to Canada, it would be to Winnipeg."

Naturally, the potential return of the NHL remains a hot-button issue around these parts but the good folks in friendly Manitoba won't need to start lining up to lay down their deposits for season tickets any time soon.

First of all, it is important to note that the affidavit was filed by a lawyer who works for Moyes and he's trying to use this statement by Bettman to help the cause of the move to Hamilton, the insinuation being that if Bettman has considered moving the franchise, then it should go to the highest bidder (which in this case is BlackBerry co-founder Jim Balsillie).

Bettman seems to be slowly (but surely?) coming around to the idea that the NHL might actually work in Winnipeg, but that day isn't going to be for the 2009-10 season, no matter how the messy situation in the desert resolves itself over the coming days, weeks or months.

Even if Bettman believes what he is accused of saying, it's simply another sign of progress but in the short term, it's nothing more than that.

Let's not forget that while Bettman is coming around on this issue, his preferred choice has never been relocation -- whether that's to Hamilton or Winnipeg -- and it probably won't ever be.

Bettman still believes the Coyotes can work in Phoenix and that's his first -- and only -- priority at this stage.

Manitoba Moose governor Mark Chipman has never denied his interest in at least investigating a return of the NHL to the MTS Centre and we're here to tell you that he's going about it the right way.

Chipman has maintained communication with the NHL and if the situation gets to a point when the NHL is willing to relocate a franchise, Winnipeg will be at or near the front of the line.

If that happens, you can bet Chipman gets unanimous approval from the NHLs board of governors, something Balsillie can't dream of at this stage.

But the only way Winnipeg becomes a legitimate possibility to take back the Coyotes franchise in the near future would go something like this (and even this is a stretch):

A bankruptcy court has to rule that Moyes handed over control of the Coyotes to the NHL and had no right to place it into Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

At that point, the NHL moves toward finding another ownership group to buy the Coyotes and leave them in Arizona, at least for the short term.

If things don't improve in a season or several, then the NHL might finally admit that relocation is necessary and then Chipman and company might be able to cobble together the funds to purchase the franchise with the right to relocate to Winnipeg.

The interesting development pertaining to the supposed offer from the group led by Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is that it was only for $US 130 million.

That's still a lot of money, but it's a lot less than the $US 210-plus that Balsillie is offering.

We've been saying for years that Chipman won't get involved in a bidding war for a franchise, but if the price becomes more manageable and the salary cap goes down, as is expected by 2010-11, then the prospects at least look brighter.

The return of the NHL to Winnipeg is far from a slam dunk, but it would be foolhardy to dismiss it outright as it's probably closer than it's been in quite some time.

ken.wiebe@sunmedia.ca


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